Monday, 2 April 2012

Unexpected encounters in Wazemmes

My older sister has very beautiful curly hair, what some may call a Jew-fro. When my mother was visiting, my sister sent me out on a mission : find some haircare products specifically for curly hair in my heavily north african neighborhood.

I walked around my neighborhood and finally walked into a store on rue Jules Guesde whose sign outside read: Cheveux africains, maghrebins et européens. When I walked in, there was a really friendly man behind the counter and a second equally friendly second man standing next to the counter talking to the shop owner.

I looked around, feeling a bit dumb and very white, and explained that my sister had very curly hair and did they have any special products for her. The owner looked at me like I was nuts and told me he didn't have anything that you can't find in the US. In fact, his entire stock of "African" haircare products is imported from the US. Indeed as I looked around, I saw logos and names that I recognized from my days as a cashier at my local CVS.

Now, let's go back 16 years to my semester abroad in Aix-en-Provence. Around Passover time, after living with my host family for 3 months, I began preping my host mom for my upcoming week of non-baguettes. She said to me, "why didn't you tell me you were Jewish? In France, we aren't against Jews, we're against Arabs". I'm pretty sure at the time, she meant "we" as a general "we" and not her specifically, but at the time I didn't pick up on the non-verbal cues and was fairly shocked. 

So when the owner's friend said to me, "donc votre soeur a des cheveux juifs, quoi?" I sort of looked down sheepishly and said, "well, um, yeah". So the well dressed, very black man says to me, "Ca ne se voit pas mais (it doesn't show but...) but my grandfather was an Italian Jew."

I stayed in the store for over an hour as they talked to me about the political situation in their native Guinea Bissau. We also talked about the economy, US and French politics and being a foreigner in France. The most interesting part of the discussion - if you can call it that because I kept quiet most of the time since I didn't even know who they were talking about (it happened to be the ex-president of their home country) - were all the stories the men had about the grandiose parties hosted by the representation in Brussels and the family connections they both had with him.

I think the first lesson that day was don't judge a book by its cover. And the second lesson was, don't walk into a small African shop when you only have a couple minutes to spare (it's a good thing I didn't have ice cream in my shopping bags).  


Perogyo said...

That's one way to make friends!

My husband has super-curly hair (the Jafro) and has a hard time getting hair products in Japan as well, so I import some for him from the US. There are others like him though that don't have foreign wives or husbands, wonder what they do.

Reb said...

and I guess there are no African hair shops in Japan?!

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